First encounters

1st December 2000 at 00:00
Kristina Humphries has patience, not patients

I blame my parents. If only they hadn't insisted on such an eccentric spelling of my first name. But I suppose they couldn't have predicted the chain of events that had led me to this situation. All through teaching practice I'd kept it quiet. When it did get out among the staff, they felt threatened or frankly didn't believe it. This second option was usually followed by: "Well, what are you doing here, then?" Then again, so was the first.

So on taking up my first post, I hadn't intended to be known as "doctor". It seemed a bit pretentious, and it might carry the expectation that I knew what I was doing. But I hadn't allowed for the vagaries of timetabling. You see, my school uses initials on the timetable to designate forms and so on. And there was already a member of staff with the initials KH, and clearly it was going to cause some confusion if I was mistaken for the rather more mature (not to mention more senior) and male head of special needs. So they made an executive decision and timetabled me as DKH (for Dr, see?).

It was all right at first. The first rumbling of trouble came when I met Year 9. They were outraged. "It can't be you, Miss. It says doctor on my timetable."

Keeping my welcoming smile firmly in place, I assured them that yes, indeed, it was me.

"But you're a woman." Yes, I agreed, well spotted. This provoked the triumphant response: "So, you must be a nurse then." Pausing only to consider the wealth of possibilities that lay ahead of me in terms of gender issues, and readjusting the smile, which had become slightly fixed, I swept on.

Repetition of similar episodes as the first week wore on robbed the exchange of whatever charm it originally had, and I began to think I was going to have an uphill struggle. But I hadn't counted on Year 7. They loved it. It gave them to opportunity to chant "Yes, Dr Humphries" when the register was called, prolonging the agony significantly. Irritably, I told them just to call me Miss. And the staff? Well, one has decided to call me Sir.

Dr Kristina Humphries is a chemistry NQT at King Edward VI high school in Stafford

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